Questions + Answers

What’s the difference between facilitation and mediation?

Facilitation and mediation are both methods of resolving conflict.  Both involve a neutral third party who helps the participants communicate and work toward agreement. 

Facilitation is typically an informal process.  Your family doesn’t need to be in a state of high conflict to benefit from working with an experienced neutral.  Nor do you need to be engaged in a dispute involving legal rights.  You may instead want to use the process to improve relationships or prevent a dispute from escalating.  The facilitator helps you clarify the issues, understand each other’s point of view, and come to agreement if that’s your goal.  The outcome rarely involves a binding written agreement.

Mediation is usually a more formal and structured process in which the neutral helps your family resolve a dispute that you haven’t been able to resolve yourselves.  Typically the goal is to reach a binding agreement that settles all matters in dispute.  The process is often used as an alternative to litigation. 

My approach includes elements of both methods, depending on your family’s situation and goals.  My job is to help you structure the process, communicate effectively, and find solutions that work for your family. 

The good news is, family disputes have special traits that make them strong candidates for facilitation or mediation.  First, family disputes often involve interpersonal issues, which can't be addressed in a court of law.  Second, family members typically can’t walk away from the dispute or each other, so maintaining relationships is often a top priority.


Why not just settle our differences in court?  Why might facilitation or mediation be better?

Facilitation and mediation share the following characteristics, which give you more flexibility and control than litigation.

VOLUNTARY: You can opt out any time you want.  No one can force you to be there.

CONTROLLED BY THE PARTIES: Nothing happens unless you all agree.  You control the outcome.  You know what will work for your family better than any mediator, lawyer, judge or jury. 

PRIVATE: All participants sign an agreement to keep the process confidential.  For example, everyone agrees not to talk to third parties about what's said or done during the process.  They also agree that if they don’t reach agreement and the matter goes to litigation, they won't use that information as evidence in court.

FLEXIBLE: Your agreement can address all the issues, not just the legal ones. 

EFFICIENT WITH TIME AND MONEY:  You may be able to resolve the conflict in just a few sessions.  If it takes longer than that, it’s unlikely to take the years and major financial investment of litigation.

GOOD FOR RELATIONSHIPS:  The process emphasizes communication and teamwork, so it tends to support relationships and often improves them.  It also sets a powerful example for the next generation on how to handle conflict productively.